‘Neoconservatism With a Human Face’

Tristero finds a ‘Sensible Liberal’ essay that isn’t so terrible considering the spirit in which, and ideology for which, it is written (Jonathan Chait, say, would have larded it with many sneers toward the anti-war Left). But I am damning it with faint praise. Over and over I’ve said that a bullshit form of liberal internationalism — the ideology that fuels the essay tristero takes issue with — is the enabling device with which neoconservatives blow up the world and make messes like Iraq. It’s why good-hearted but mush-minded people fell for the Iraq War. Neoconservatives don’t actually give a shit about democracy and human rights, and never have, but they adopt the rhetoric of such concerns in order to dupe liberals into supporting their schemes. So, how does one stop being a useful idiot of neocons? Well, stop sharing with them the assumption of American Exceptionalism, for one.

Tristero says, rightly:

American exceptionalism is not something to celebrate but to strongly oppose for There Lie Monsters. Let’s not forget where this goody two-shoe-ism leads, which is usually straight into debacles. But I must admit: It’s true we haven’t had any foreign policy disasters recently trying to export Truth, Justice, and The American Way. Except for Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Darfur, Russia, Kyoto, Darfur, Mexico, Venezuela, and Pakistan. To name just a few.

Michael Lind also has much goodness to say (subscription to nation needed to access the link) in criticizing Slaughter’s position. He calls it “neoconservatism with a human face.”

Imperialism or neoconservatism, or whatever. it’s a rotten idea to think you’ve got the kind of country everyone else wants to live in, and the kind of values everyone else should have.

I really wish I could read Lind’s article. “Neoconservatism with a human face” is a great way of putting it; somewhere, the ghost of Susan Sontag smiles at that formulation and paraphrase of one of her most famous lines.

It’s just not in me to bring the funny lately (sorry, peeps), so instead, I’ll offer more quotes relevant to the disease of the liberal internationalists who are so often liberal hawks who so often provide a cover of decency for neoconservatives who in turn are nothing but imperialists. First, from William Appleman Williams’s classic The Tragedy of American Diplomacy:

In the realm of ideas and ideals, American policy is guided by three conceptions. One is the warm, generous, humanitarian impulse to help other people solve their problems. A second is the principle of self-determination applied at the international level, which asserts the right of every society to establish its own goals or objectives, and to realize them internally through the means its decides are appropriate. These two ideas can be reconciled; indeed, they complement each other to an extensive degree. But the third idea entertained by many Americans is one which insists that other people cannot really solve their problems and improve their lives unless they go about it in the same way as the United States. This idea is not peculiar to Americans, for all other peoples reveal some degree of this attitude toward the rest of the world.

The crucial point, however, is this: the idea that other people ought to copy America contradicts the humanitarian urge to help them and the idea that they have the right to make such key decisions for themselves. In some cases, the American way of doing things simply does not work for other people. In another instance, it may be satisfactory, but the other society may prefer to do it in a different way that produces equally good results. But even if the American way is the only effective approach, the fact remains that the act of forcing it upon the other society — and economic and political pressure are forms of force — violates the very idea of self-determination. It also angers the other society and makes it even less apt to accept the American way on its own merits. Hence it is neither very effective nor very idealistic to help other people by insisting they become carbon copies of the United States.


The over-all result is that America’s humanitarian urge to assist other peoples is undercut — even subverted — by the way it goes about helping them. Other societies come to feel that American policy causes them to lose their economic as well as their political right of self-determination. Feeling that they are being harmed rather than helped, they are inclined to resort to political and economic measures in retaliation, which only intensify a problem that is very complex to begin with.

The whole ‘liberal internationalist’ project is a contradiction when it is manifested through force: what purports to be idealist and humanitarian inevitably becomes in practice chauvinist and brutal. Here’s Jurgen Habermas to explain that the universalism of liberal internationalists and neocons is of the arrogant American Exceptionalist variety, but not of the good old international law variety:

There was a time when liberal nationalism saw itself justified in promulgating the universal values of its own liberal order, with military force if necessary, throughout the entire world. This arrogance does not become any more tolerable when it is transferred from nation-states to a single hegemonic state. It is precisely the universalistic core of democracy and human rights that forbids their unilateral realisation at gunpoint. The universal validity claim that commits the West to its “basic political values”, that is, to the procedure of democratic self-determination and the vocabulary of human rights, must be confused with the imperialist claim that the political form of life and the culture of a particular democracy — even the oldest one — is exemplary for all societies.

The “universalism” of the old empires was of this sort, perceiving the world beyond the distant horizon of their borders only from the centralising perspective of their own worldview. Modern self-understanding, by contrast, has been shaped by an egalitarian universalism that requires a decentralisation of one’s own perspective. […] If thousands of Shias in Nasiriya demonstrate in equal measure against both Saddam Hussein and the American occupation, they express the truth that non-Western cultures must appropriate the universalistic content of human rights from their own resources and in their own interpretation, one that will construct a convincing connection to local experiences and interests.

This is important not just because of the next war and the danger that certain stupid liberals will fall for it, too, like they did Iraq (if a President Obama, say, wants to pre-emptively bomb Iran, what do you want to bet that every damn fool Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum will endorse it?), but also for the fact that a righteous ‘Yanqui go home’ sentiment informs Iraqi opposition to the American occupation and will as long as we are there. Americans would resent it if an extranational force made us live a certain way, told us what to do and not do — and all that by gunpoint. Well, so do the Iraqis. It’s only American Exceptionalism that can excuse us when we do exactly that to the Iraqis, rationalizing our immoral occupation as so many wingnuts do with the formula that only wicked people could resist (good, wholesome, singularly virtuous) American control of their country.


Comments: 54


You would think Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and everything else the Busheviks have done to the world would send this concept to its final resting place.

But American Exceptionalism cannot fail, it can only be failed.


A robust diplomatic attempt to encourage other countries to embrace our social ideals would be a far more acceptable liberal policy than the militarism most current American politicians have adopted. The neoconservatives and DLC liberals have concluded that our military is our most effective means of influencing world events. They have gone beyond Clauswitz: now war is the only diplomacy.

Qetesh the Abyssinian

Part of the problem is American exceptionalism. The other part is American brutality/greed/selfishness. I’m not sure of the relative sizes of these parts, but they’re about all there is going on in US foreign policy, at least as far as I can see.

What do I mean by “American brutality/greed/selfishness”? I mean whatever impulse moved various governments at various times to overthrow the government of Chile, to train torturers and terrorists for El Salvador, and to commit all the other atrocities that have been committed over the last few decades. I very much doubt that anyone attempted to justify these acts as “exporting truth, justice and the American way of ponies”.


A robust diplomatic attempt to encourage other countries to embrace our social ideals would be a far more acceptable liberal policy than the militarism most current American politicians have adopted.

Not that I disagree with any of this……just wanted to add how awsome I think it would be if WE lived up to OUR OWN social ideals.


How about the Americans who say the United States doesn’t have secret CIA prisons, we haven’t tortured anyone, the president isn’t breaking the law (even though he already admitted it right in front of television cameras), we aren’t holding innocent people illegally without charges, we didn’t illegally invade a country that did not attack or threaten us, and then say we SHOULD be doing those things? WHAT!?! The United States can do no wrong, yet they cheer on the atrocities we supposedly aren’t committing.

Sorry, I still haven’t been able to get my ignorant Republican acquaintances to admit there is such a thing as reality. Apparently, as long as their assorted authority figures keep telling them to shut up and close their eyes, they won’t look.


The first step in thinking about U.S. foreign policy is to learn to separate the hard core “Big Thinkers” and propagandistic intellectuals from those who actually design policy and do things.

For example, someone in the New Republic may be writing long essays about whether or not the US should export its way of life to Central Americans, and meanwhile the Reagan administration is arming, directing, and stumping for literal genocidal dictators.

Maybe a more accurate debate should be whether or not one group of people should stand around talking about the grand nobility of US foreign policy establishment intentions and what those grand intentions should be, while another group does whatever the hell it wants for reasons which are entirely internal to those directing the policies.

Noble intellectuals can thus have their discussions about whether America should back a foreign policy based on chocolate and cake and whether chocolate and cake are right for everyone, and meanwhile the Office of Actual plans orders us to pay local thugs to set up a paramilitary and slaughter thousands of union leaders and human rights activists.


it’s a rotten idea to think you’ve got the kind of country everyone else wants to live in, and the kind of values everyone else should have.

YES. This is what bugs even the neighbours and friends of superpowers, even in times of peace. How much more so in times of war.


(if a President Obama, say, wants to pre-emptively bomb Iran, what do you want to bet that every damn fool Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum will endorse it?)

Just remember the miserable spectacle the center-left put on during the whole Kosovo thing. There was ample evidence at the time that the Ramboulliet Accords were as artificial an excuse for war as anything the Busheviks have come up with, and yet the cries of “WE MUST DO SOMETHING” drowned out any debate on the matter. Or the lame-ass attempt to “sell” an attack on Iraq that Clinton, Albright et al put on in Ohio.


Or the lame-ass attempt to “sell� an attack on Iraq that Clinton, Albright et al put on in Ohio.

Someone on the liberal talk radio around here was waxing rhapsodic this morning about how great life was for people on the left under Clinton. I always start making a list of reasons why he sucked donkey balls every time I hear someone do that.

Have to add this to the list. I usually hate on him for his lameass domestic policies.


Or the lame-ass attempt to “sell� an attack on Iraq that Clinton, Albright et al put on in Ohio.

You’re talking about the Town Hall meeting at Ohio State that was shown on CNN, in which many students ripped directly into Albright, right?

Because that was fucking awesome. So many kids finally able to directly confront their leaders for the hypocrisy of American foreign policy: “What do you mean, ‘human rights’ when the American government has propped up the Shah and Suharto and Somoza and.. etc? How do you say this stuff with a straight face, Madame Albright?” Oh the contempt was just beautiful. She got clobbered.


I forget where I heard this but it went something like:

Other cultures are NOT failed attempts at being your culture. That’s not the exact quote,but you get the idea. And really,these days,”American culture”is a freaking strip mall mostly.America’s suburbs all look alike,sound alike,smell alike,yawn. It might be nice to nurture some creativity in this country,but that’s a whole post by itself.

The US population is around 5 or 6 percent of the world’s total. And while we may have all the cool neato weapons we can whip out at a moment’s notice,there’s gonna come a day(very damned soon if we’re not there yet) where the other 95% of the world has about had it with us and shuts us out of everything whenever and however possible.

Since we barely make anything of our own anymore and most of our food comes from really convuluted routes(I can buy veggies from thousands of miles away far easier than I can buy them grown locally,as just one of many examples),it would seem to me that actually getting along with other nations would be simple common sense. Like not pissing off the wait staff at a restaurant,lest they spit or snot in your food.


What is HAPPENING lately with Sadly, No!? More then half the times I try to get in to this excellent blog site I am totally unable to…I just give up after a couple of minutes.

Hey SN? webmaster, what the HECK is going on? Do you need a larger server? Please enlighten me as to whats happening with this wonderful site.



This is nothing more than “white man’s burden imperialism”. The rubes back home need to believe they are doing good by brining civilization to the savages, even as the empire is busy slaughtering and pillaging those same savages. Victorian Britain perfected this kind of imperialism. We’re just the current perpetrator.



I was watching a Lewis Black show last night where he said Americans are the only people who go around the world insisting that America is the best country in the world.

The exceptionalists have a tendency to also be people who haven’t traveled to other countries much, if at all. They swallow the idea, welcome it, because it gives them comfort when they’re watching Everybody Loves Raymond and telling themselves this is the life.

Meanwhile, again as Lewis Black points out, other countries might totally rock, and these people wouldn’t know. Look at canada, just as an example: they give away Medical Care!!


habermas and appleman williams are great. they took liberalism seriously and they didn’t have time for inherent contradictions (a trait that goes all the back to de toqueville). cold war liberalism found itself in a bind–the soviets really were bad guys, and they really were considered Left by the majority of Americans, so liberals fell into the habit of needing muscularity in foreign affairs to cover their flank against the crime of fellow travelling.

the genius of permanenttotaljihadiwarforever is that it forces us right back into that trap-constantly having to prove how tough we are against an existential threat in order to win our little abortion rights or gay rights or workers’ rights battles domestically. karl rove and cheney are fucking geniuses, no doubt.

of course, there are other, frenchier, philosophers who might point out that all of this is not the kind of “existentialism” they had in mind. because IIRC the soviets actually were a worldwide threat, striking blows all over the globe. and jihadis….not so much. so the chaits of the world are covering their ass even though they already have pants on, just trusting that fred thompson’s description of their ass as naked is more accurate then the odd feeling that there is something covering them.

who you gonna believe, a bunch of neo-con assholes or your own lying eyes?


“I was watching a Lewis Black show last night where he said Americans are the only people who go around the world insisting that America is the best country in the world.”

This isn’t true. Well, it is literally true, but Americans aren’t the only people going around claiming their country is the best in the world. The French, for example, are particularly prone to it, and the Russians used to be and will be that way again in a decade or two. The Brits were famous for it before the 60s. What’s unique about America in this context is the extent to which American exceptionalism is woven into the fabric of society, culture and politics, combined with a nationalism so pervasive that natives don’t even notice it. And it’s all exacerbated by having a population which (for the most part) rarely travels abroad and is exposed to very little of the world beyond its borders except when the American military goes on one of its adventures.


HTML, this post and your previous (and upcoming) posts on the cult of manliness fit in very well with the ideas explored in a book called Nobody Wanted War by Ralph K. White (published in 1968). The book is a psychological study of the war, with specific focus on Vietnam.
– it provides a general framework which can then be applied to specifics, and
In a nutshell, the author identified six misperceptions that both lead countries to war and keep them embroiled in conflicts. The misperceptions are fairly self-explanatory:

1. Diabolical enemy-image
2. Virile self-image
3. Moral self-image
4. Selective inattention
5. Absence of empathy
6. Military overconfidence

American exceptionalism seems particularly bound up in the first and third in the list. Even when another country is not our enemy, reasons are still found to disparage them, to accuse them of barbarism, or secularism, or corruption. The moral self-image is the way people justify all their actions as good and necessary – what they do must be necessary, else they wouldn’t do it, and thus if it was necessary it was good, and besides it was good to begin with, else it wouldn’t have been necessary.

The virile self-image stuff is particularly apt today, what with the press all ga-ga over the musk of Republican candidates.

You really should snag a copy of the book. I will toot my own horn for a moment and provide a link to a few posts I wrote about the book’s framework applied to Iraq on my now-defunct secondary blog: Why We Fight.


This is mostly just another way of saying what the rest of the commentariat is saying, but I think it’s important. American exceptionalism is driven down into the population by an unwillingness of “opinion leaders” (politicians, pundits, press, celebs etc) to actually allow a discussion that includes reality. We can’t examine our own culpability in world events, so for most americans, we HAVE no culpability. Whether it’s terrorism, environmentalism, militarism, diplomacy, virtually ANY topic, the dialog in america is woefully incomplete.

A narrative develops around a story, Iraq WMDs, Social Security, Health Care, Iran – and the narrative is repeated, explored, discussed and analyzed. But the narrative that develops is typically inaccurate of itself, and never includes any possibility that america, her leaders or her policy might be wrong. Frequently this “discussion” includes only two options, presented as if they were the ONLY options, when it’s easy to see that either or both are ill conceived or just plain counter productive.

Until we can have real, open discussions that include the possibilty that it is US that is wrong, we will continue to drive full speed down this unsustainable path. And until a politician can get elected in america on a platform of reducing the military, engaging with our neighbors and living in peace with nations even if we have some disagreement with them, the military will grow, the economy will stumble and america will sink…



I’m constantly reminded of what Eisenhower said in his speech before he left office. And then constantly reminded that not only did we not listen, we went full-bore ahead into supporting the Military-Industrial Complex wrong or wronger.

Frankly, there’s a part of me that suspects the only way ‘America’ is ever going to accomplish such a thing as reducing the military, engaging our neighbors and living in peace with nations even if we have some disagreement with them, is if we actually had a revolution and dismantled the whole thing. It’s weaseled too far into the bones of the republic now to just hope for an election to fix it.


Not funny, No.

But very well put, HTML. I think this is the world view that both Clinton and Obama embrace, possibly making them both as dangerous as any of the Repub clowns fighting for a chance to come in second.

In fact, I think this is an idea that is endemic in the Beltway crowd. Only a complete sea change in the way our political system is run will change this fundamental issue.

As long as corporations control the process, we might as well get used to wars. Wars are fought for the benefit of the few at the detriment of many. That seems to be the idea we are most efficient at exporting.


y’all are starting to sound like Wobblies here.

I’m getting choked up! ‘Tis a beautiful sight!

You guys know the words to “Solidarity Forever”, right?


I don’t mind people thinking our country’s the best.

I don’t even mind people going to other countries saying our country’s the best.

It’s when they drag the military behind them that I get pissed off.

Note for lurking conservative motherfuckers:

The single best argument made for America doesn’t involve a bomb, a bullet, a nuke, or a soldier.

It involves a satellite dish.

Fuck, you’d get more converts mass bombing people not with daisy cutters, but with back issues of Home and Garden and Scientific American, then you’ve EVER gotten.


Jillian: Well, I don’t identify as a communist just for the hot Second-World chicks.


Hubba hubba! Is this the place where I make jokes about the rising of the proletariat?


Excuse me whilest I defend the American exceptionalism, but not your grandfather’s (or even father’s) brand of exceptionalism. The type that Habermas and other’s rail against is also infected by a core of the idea that America is intrinsically good/exceptional. I think we can offer (and I think that is what Jillian, and others here are pointing towards) a version of AE which is based on the actual results of humanitarian efforts in our own country as well as in others, a more pragmatic version which is more palatable to our fellow countrymen.


Waitaminute here. I’ve got an awful lot of indoctrination within me that demands I kill communists. Now at this point I’m delighted to lower the muzzle and take a knee, but I’m still gonna have a hard time joining up. I’m gonna stick with “liberal” if that’s ok…




What is a wobblie? I think of the feeling that comes over me at 3 in the morning after drinking well over a six-pack, then thinking it would be a good time to take a bong hit.

So is it like the spins?


So I guess it is not the spins. Too bad.

As far as a political sea change, I was thinking more along the lines of campaign finance reform and much more stringent ethics oversight…


Holy hell, not just a satellite dish.

We have spent nearly 500 BILLION dollars (that’s BILL-YUNS, as in Carl Sagan) fighting this stupid fuckin war in Iraq. And that’s straight-up debt, added right on top of the good old deficit.

I read somewhere that for less than 5 billion dollars, we could provide clean and safe drinking water to every man, woman, child and pet hamster in the ENTIRE world.

Now, which one of those things is going to present a better American face to the world, not to mention actually living up to the image of magnanimity and compassion that most Americans think we have?


Communists are much nicer than you’ve been led to believe, mikey. Remember, the same people who told you teh commies were a threat to your way of life were the ones who told you that the “South Vietnamese” would greet you as liberators.

But start off slow……have a chat with me sometime about being a socialist. We’re much more nonthreatening than the Bolsheviks.


Yay! A Wobblies meeting! *scrambles through closet looking for her old work boots and flannel shirt*

I read somewhere that for less than 5 billion dollars, we could provide clean and safe drinking water to every man, woman, child and pet hamster in the ENTIRE world.

Oh, Billy, that’s the saddest thing I have read today. Sad, because no one will ever, ever do it.

Vaccinations against common (and often lethal) childhood diseases are incredibly cheap, too, and no one will ever do that, either.

As a species, I think we sorta suck.

Except for Teh Wobblies. And Teh SadlyNauts.

I agree with those who have mentioned the insularity of the average US citizen as a major factor in AE.

Does anyone think that wider use of the internet could conceivably help with American’s parochialism? I mean, you can’t get everyone to visit other countries, or even learn another language. But I think a lot of kids are growing up with the concept that you can talk to someone halfway round the world (who probably speaks English) and find out stuff about other societies on the intertoobz.

I mean, it’s not all sports and pr0n, and I think eventually (perhaps even the current younger generation) Americans might grow up. At least, I hope so.

a different brad

Two reasons I’d never be a socialist; I fucking hate Hegelian dialectic, and I’m not sure it’d be constructive. Of course I agree with a large amount of socialist thought, but there’s also a lot I disagree with. Marx’s old, weird, distinction between uniqueness and particularity honestly scares me a little. Maintaining a society without particularity would create new injustices, and arguably a third class.
Me, I’ve given up on isms, theories, ideologies, grand narratives, great leaps forward, and the rest. Every form of government is fucked up in some way, because it was created by people. Every form of government will be fucked up in some way, because it’s staffed by people. I’m just worried about the quality of the people staffing it. A new structure would fix some problems, ignore others, and create some new ones. All I want is people who aren’t insane and have half a clue. Asking more than that is….. unrealistic.


Gentlewoman, that thing about the water just PISSES ME OFF. They’ve LOST more money than that in Iraq; hell, if the Bushites hadn’t purged the entire government of anyone but Liberty University sycophants, a creative and humanitarian bookkeeper somewhere might have managed to slide that project into one of the many ‘black budgets’ associated with Our Clusterfuck…


Gentlewoman: “Does anyone think that wider use of the internet could conceivably help with American’s parochialism?”

This is my dream, GW. I hope it works out that way. My kid plays an on-line game and talks to his co-players on vent. (Aside: we make lots of jokes here at Sadly about WoW-playing wingnuts, but everyone he’s run across seems to range from liberal to hard-core lefty.) When I overhear the folks he’s talking to on vent, like as not they’re speaking English with an accent. Lotta Australians, for some reason.

Also, one positive among the many negatives of outsourcing has been the electronic daily mingling in the corporate world of offices in India with offices in the US. All the companies I’ve worked with in the last five years have offices in India, and some in other countries. For a home town Des Moines Iowa or Spokane WA person to be interacting daily with people in Hyderabad or Pune is not something that would ever conceivably have happened in the past. It’s got to have an effect. We’d get the company emails for festivals like Diwali or Ramadan, so even the folks who never cracked a book after graduation would learn a little cultural info. The companies bring people from India over here for a sort of sabbatical and vice versa. You see women wearing beautiful saris on the streets of downtown Des Moines at lunch time, and dark skinned foreign men in business clothes, not cleaning-crew uniforms, so that too is bound to have a psychological impact.

My dream is that once the whole world is working together, the workers will turn on the overlords who are treating them unjustly, see religion in a comparative way, and understand that all human beings are fundamentally the same: They want a clean, safe place to live and raise their families, and enough food to eat. And that will be the salvation of the world. Then the shrooms wear off. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Gotta go jump in the shower or I’ll be late to my wild and exciting Legal Research and Writing class. (Actually, I l do like that class because my instructor is an old school intellectual lefty lawyer and poet. The subject matter is dull but the class is not.)

Sign me up for the Wobblie meeting! I’ll bring the rum.


Eh, brad, I’m far from a doctrinaire *anything*. There’s problems with the dialectic (it assumes teleology, if you aren’t careful), there’s problems with historical materialism (ditto), there’s problems with false consciousness (it leads, in the hands of the gullible, to my least favorite thing in the whole world that we’ve just spend seven hundred comments arguing about)……but at the heart of it all, there is something that is brilliant and accurate and helps to make a lot of the dumbass things we do – like NOT spending the pittance it would take to bring the world clean drinking water – make sense. For that alone, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Marx.

I think the problems are fixable (although what you’ll end up with probably will look greatly different from what Marx imagined), but I also think it’s the work of a lifetime to fix ’em. I’m working on it – just gotta talk a bunch of other people into working with me.

Come on…..doesn’t reading entire truckloads of nineteenth century materialist philosophy, trying to pick the good bits out from the odd bits, sound like fun to anyone besides me?

a different brad

Sorry Jillian, wasn’t a misplaced rant aimed at you, but rather the “socialists” who populate my grad school’s polisci dept. I won’t pretend to know yer soul, but you’re not a socialist for social standing, I think it’s safe to say. Shit, I knew some actual Maoists, who seemed to think that meant they were noble for trying to get other people to do their work for them. But I don’t go to that bookstore anymore.
My fundamental problem with isms is that they can become more important to their members than reality itself, as, well, the entire 20th century can demonstrate. The point, which I’m glad to see we agree on, is people, and their welfare.
Also, while it’s somewhat distasteful to me to say this, socialism is a dead brand in the US. There may well yet be a socialist uprising in South and/or Central America. If nothing changes, it’s almost a certainty. But here, no chance. There needs to be a repackaging and reformulation for the American experience. I’m not saying stick some high fructose corn syrup in it and make it poison, but at the very least it needs a new name. It’s silly and stupid, but it’s needed.


I didn’t take it personally, at all. There are some hella dumbass socialists out there. And yeah, socialism is DOA in America…..one of the reasons I think it’s probably better for me to find another place to live.

This country doesn’t seem to want me, or people like me. Hell, it doesn’t seem to want queers, or pacifists, or dirty fucking hippies, or a whole buncha other people anymore.

I think the worst thing I could hope for America is that it someday gets its wish in that department.


Also, while it’s somewhat distasteful to me to say this, socialism is a dead brand in the US. There needs to be a repackaging and reformulation for the American experience. I’m not saying stick some high fructose corn syrup in it and make it poison, but at the very least it needs a new name. It’s silly and stupid, but it’s needed.

I’m not sure. See, I think most people in the U.S. are aware of the things the far left offers as being good, important things to the further health of the nation as a whole. What we need (and bear in mind, I’m even worse than a socialist), is strong socialist/far-left leadership. We’ve been burnt so often over the 20th century that it’s been easy to minimalize and ostracize would-be officials, and because of that, the name suffers.

The Republicans are doing the same thing now to the Democratic Party because it worked so gosh-darned well with the Worker’s Party or the Communist Party. And if the problem in the Democrats can be solved by a stronger leadership, the same could work for far-left parties in the U.S. The public responds to emotion and rhetoric and you know we got that shit in spades. The good thing is that we’re mostly on the side of the angels with ours.

a different brad

Patkin, I wish it were so, but I think you’re being unrealistic about the regard the average american has for the left. What we need, as Jillian so often says, is an actual left wing in the US. What we effectively have are a bunch of would-be leaders holding court in various academic settings, generally just arguing amongst themselves, making their language so specific and technical it’s no longer english or comprehensible to… anyone.

Jillian, I go through that same fight or flight instinctive reaction all the damn time, too. I don’t wanna die in this shit, but this is my country sure as theirs. Fuck, I can trace family on both sides to Revolutionary times. On my mother’s side I have Iroquois blood, probably Mohawk. I was in Manhattan on 9/11, and before, and since. This is my country, in an extremely non-exclusive sense, and I’ve benefited too much from it to give it over to the worst of us. I’m no activist or revolutionary, at least not right this moment, but I’m not getting pushed out.


Neh, again, I think this is an issue of weak leaders.

If you ask the general American about shit, avoiding that 28% that seems to think we should be Kazakhstan, you can find that ideals like universal health care are a thing they can get behind, but figure it’s a fruitless goal.

And really, when the Republicans want nothing more than to drown what health care we do have, the Democrats dither about on whether to help drown it or cover their eyes, and every would-be leftist leader is either the same boring technicalist the Democrats churn out every election cycle, or terrified that the McCarthyites and Birch Society *will* kill them, who can blame the American public for being sketchy on how valid a goal it is we’re pushing.

What I think we need to do is tell the academic leftists to fuck off. Like you say, they don’t help the cause one bit while they bicker about whatever the fuck it is they talk about. And we need to figure out ways to protect those left-wing talkers so they can become left-wing politicians so they can become left-wing leaders.

Rebranding lets the enemy of the people define the fight. Fuck that. The people can choose the right way every once in a while, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle, no matter what we call ourselves.

a different brad

I don’t agree something like universal health care is definitively socialist. Obviously the idea began in socialism, but it doesn’t mean the average American really is a socialist to say they think we should have a basic right to health care. The average, kinda dumb, person doesn’t have an ideology, and probably never will. A favorite stat of mine is that more people believe in the Devil than in angels, despite the Devil being a fallen angel. Logical coherency or consistency is not to be found in the average person’s collection of political opinions. Plenty of people undoubtably don’t even know what socialism is, aside from it being evilbad. Even more couldn’t tell you the difference between it and communism. Even in grad school I’ve had the experience, in classes involving Marx, of someone raising their hand and asking why the collapse of the Soviet Union doesn’t amply demonstrate the inherent flaws of Marxism or socialism.
As for rebranding, who the fuck cares what something is called so long that it is? The word socialism is not more important than the instinct it represents to try and do better.



I dunno. Considering socialist (and other far-leftists) seem to be the only group of people in this country who’ll actually say we deserve health care as a basic fundamental right of humanity and mean it, I’m going to go out on a limb and call universal health care a far-left ideal.

And that it’s called socialism is fucking important. It’s the same reason why we have to point out Gary Ruppert’s tic of calling it the Democrat Party, or why liberalism has been redefined, re-taken, re-redefined, abandoned, and set on fire and urinated upon over the past two decades.

Letting the other side define the debate, and running for new words instead of bulling through is what got the Democrats in trouble, and why the far-left has been terrified out of the country’s narrative.

Well, okay, the far-left got terrified out of this country because they arrested us, deported us, locked us up and beat anyone suspected as affiliated with us to death with sticks, but that’s splitting hairs.


I don’t agree something like universal health care is definitively socialist.

Well, yes it is. Whether or not people want to own up to that or can even define socialism a meaningful way is not really relevant. There’s an ilk of Christian (that’s a cool phrase) that claims that Christianity is not a religion because Christianity-As-We-Practice-Itâ„¢ is true, but the word “religion” already means something and people routinely apply it to Christianity no matter what they say.

Personally I’m happy to call myself a socialist. What I think of such socialistic policies like Health Care For All, though, is what I think of myself as being before socialist: pragmatic. It’s not that the policy is socialist and therefore I’m for it, but that I think it’s workable and smart and therefore I’d go for it: lo and behold, I manage to fall into the socialist box, probably as some sort of wishy-washy market socialist who’ll be next against the wall once the capitalists are machine-gunned, but there you go.


HTML said: “I really wish I could read Lind’s article.”


a different brad

Patkin…. I still don’t see why the word is important. If you want to say they’re going to use it against us so we might as well reclaim it, fine, but reclamation would be a long, intensive process that’s a lot less important than the actual business at hand. I’m kinda worried you’re forming a socialist identity and placing that ahead of point of socialism in the first place. Unless you’re in your 70s or so it’s a bit of a stretch to say “they arrested us” and the rest.
Socialism is a political scare word for most Americans. What matters is finding ways to improve society, not getting Americans to say socialism is ok. The word is irrelevant, at least compared to reality.
And I’d argue the fact that the public is in favor of a right to basic health care and that socialists have been arguing for universal health care for over a century combining into no universal health care shows that the public doesn’t agree they’re socialists for wanting health care.


Jillian, teleology need not be a dirty word. Have you considered reading Dewey, he lurved him some democracy and had a teleological understanding of how the burrito fits together.

a different brad

Sorry if I was getting testy, patkin.


Patkin…. I still don’t see why the word is important. If you want to say they’re going to use it against us so we might as well reclaim it, fine, but reclamation would be a long, intensive process that’s a lot less important than the actual business at hand.

Diff Brad:

See, I think it is important. Yes, millions of Americans view the word ‘Socialism’ as meaning a kind of evil. I know that. Still, the word is also tied up with so many concepts that are so damn important that we will always be at a disadvantage trying to talk about universal health care or protecting the environment.

We will be saying, “We want Universal health care”. And Rush Limbaugh will say to his listeners, “They just want socialism”. And he will be right, actually. Seems to me that to really weaken Rush Limbaugh, or any of his kind, you have to rehabilitate the word Socialism somewhat.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just Old Skool.


Fuck. Has anyone else ever come to a point where they’ve forgotten how to write? I have. Guh. I just have no skillz right now, have lost all ability to express myself in my own voice.

Anyway, I should say that I’m *for* liberal internationalism *as Lind defines it*. But my point is that in practice, what’s now known as liberal internationalism is shit and imperialist.

Shit, I say. And imperialist (and a fabuluous way to cheapen the ‘progressive’ brand).


From Jillian:

Not that I disagree with any of this……just wanted to add how awsome I think it would be if WE lived up to OUR OWN social ideals.

This is the potential upside to American Exceptionalism. The idea that “we’re supposed to be setting the example here, people… how about we start behaving properly?”.

Alas, these days it’s a lot more potential than actual.



This is important not just because of the next war and the danger that certain stupid liberals will fall for it, too, like they did Iraq (if a President Obama, say, wants to pre-emptively bomb Iran, what do you want to bet that every damn fool Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum will endorse it?)…

What this really means is that we need to make big, big cuts in the defense budget. Having an enormous defense establishment creates an irresistible temptation to use it. Madeline Albright’s quote (“What’s the use of having this big military if we can’t use it” or words to that effect) is instructive. Once we get our military scaled back to our actual defense needs, the temptation to do this kind of crap will be significantly reduced.


[…] of a belief in American Exceptionalism — in times of crises? In Yglesias’s case, apparently not. The imperialism of Ivo Daalder and John Ikenberry is prettier than Bill Kristol’s, say, but […]


[…] Liberals, its Drums, Yglesiases, Kleins, its Beinarts, Chaits, and Hitchenes; while he was the DFH. But most of all, it had its wingnuts, and to them especially Las Casas made the point that […]


(comments are closed)